Friday, July 8, 2011

Stem Cell Research

I know there is a huge debate on the use of stem cells, and I can understand both sides of the argument. However, being a health care professional I tend to lean toward favouring stem cell research. I read two stories today showing how useful they can be in health care. One story is about Mr. Beyene, a 36 year old who had an inoperable cancerous tumor obstructing his airway. Scientists constructed an entirely new trachea using a "scaffold" and Mr. Beyene's own stem cells from his bone marrow. The new trachea was then implanted into the patient. Because the trachea was constructed from the patients own stem cells, there is no need for him to take immuno-suppressant drugs. The use of stem cells also completely eliminates the need for a donor patient. Amazingly, the new trachea only took a few days to make! You can read the full story here.

The second story I read was regarding a study on the use of stem cells to relieve angina when other methods are ineffective. The study included over 100 people and involved harvesting the participants own stem cells and injecting them directly back into the damaged areas of their heart. The goal was to grow new blood vessels in the heart to bypass the damaged vessels, increasing blood supply to the heart, and ultimately relieving associated chest pain. Within a few months many of the participants reported feeling better than they had in years. Researchers say that it is not clear whether the stem cells are producing new blood vessels or relieving the chest pain through other means. The results of the study justify the need for larger trials. You can read the fully story here.

While the use of stem cells can be greatly beneficial to our health, it is frightening to think what could be done if they are placed in the wrong hands. In 2005 Stem cell scientist Irving Weismann proposed creating mice with almost fully human brains. He stated his experiment could provide insight into how the human brain develops and how degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson's progress. An informal ethics committee at Stanford University endorsed the proposal, stating if any mice showed human-like qualities they would be killed. The thought of a human brain being trapped inside an animal is positively frightening! Scientists are constantly blurring the line between research for health benefits and creating a whole new species... Chimera comes to mind...

Read here for information on stem cells.

- A

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